Monday, September 18, 2017

Cross-Country Virtual Presentation Inspires

I've been checking in with the teachers that are new to my school this week, as well as those with new assignments, to make sure that they are doing okay. One of the questions I've asked has been "What was your biggest success this week?" My colleague turned the question back to me and wanted to know what my biggest success was this past week. It was easy to answer, thanks to Robyn Lau.

Who is Robyn Lau? You can read her brief biography here ( My daughter met her in Artists Alley at Fan Expo Canada this year. Mary and all of her friends commissioned drawings of their Dungeons & Dragons characters from her and raved about the quality of her artwork. I sent her an email asking her if she'd be willing to speak for twenty minutes or so to a group of Grade 3-7 students about tips for drawing faces of actual people for a small honorarium, and she agreed.

The group of students are members of my Kids Guide to Canada Portrait Club. As I mentioned in my beginning of summer post, I'm working on a project that has been continually evolving about the Canadian Prime Ministers. I've written a paper about it for Treasure Mountain Canada; the research symposium and think tank will take place October 20-21, 2017 in Winnipeg. The due date and focus of the paper did not allow me to share details on this portion of the process - our first Portrait Club meeting and Robyn's presentation. This blog post will address that omission.

The presentation would not have been as rewarding and productive as it was without the help of Natalie Colaiacovo and the TDSB Library and Learning Resources department. Robyn wanted to share her screen to do a drawing demonstration and I was a bit concerned that Google Hangouts might not be up to the task. The TDSB Library department lent me an Adobe Connect account for the day and Natalie (@lilstairz on Twitter) helped me with technological support.

Robyn was down-to-earth, yet captivating. She has given me permission to share the photos and video we took during the event. The students were impressed with her skills and talent and it was remarkable how she turned simple shapes into our current prime minister.

Begin with head shape and measuring distances in features

More shapes, lightly drawn

Shadowing and light vs dark

Don't draw every strand of hair - instead ...
The finished product!
Robyn also provided some great "life lessons" while she talked. The students asked (via the chat feature, since Robyn was unable to hear us) how Robyn "got so good". Robyn explained that practice and a good attitude were more important than raw talent or where she went to school. She went to an art college in British Columbia but she said that she knew many successful artists who did not attend such post-secondary institutions yet make a good living - she also knew many people who went to the "best schools" but were floundering in their art careers. Her message of perseverance and growth mindset fit well with our school goals.

What excited and delighted me was that on the very next day after Robyn's talk, one of the members of the Portrait Club came to me to show me his completed drawing of his assigned Prime Minister, Paul Martin. I forgot to take a photo of his artwork, but it blew me away! I never knew he could draw so realistically!

Thank you Robyn for launching our Prime Minister project so effectively! You've inspired us to do our best and we look forward to sharing the final project with you and the rest of Canada.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Less can be more in learning environments

The first week of the 2017-2018 school year is over. Prior to the first day of school, social media was awash in photos of educators' classroom set ups. The regularly scheduled #tdsbEd chat on Twitter had us dig deeper into these images with questions reflecting on "Your Learning Environment". The archived chat can be found here - - and it's clear that this grassroots online professional learning opportunity has legitimacy and staying power, as both the TDSB director and associate director added a tweet or two themselves to the discussion.

Arianna Lambert and Larissa Aradj, the Twitter chat moderators, asked participants to add photos of their classrooms / learning environments to the chat. I forgot to take photos beforehand so here are some of my pictures.

View from when you first walk in the library

Looking towards the fiction/non-fiction section

Something new-leather couches! (Note bare walls)

Another comfy couch area with Sir Bob the Knight

More couches (w/ bean bag chair) - was going to replace w/ leather ones but kept -kids love it

Zelia Capitao Tavares mentioned in her answer to the second question (What does your learning environment look like?) that she got feedback from her previous year's students and the class has less furniture and more seating choice with space to move about. I love that Zelia had the wherewithal to ask her students before the first day. I know my colleague Diana Hong has solicited advice from her new students; they have already rearranged the room she prepared, out of data projector necessity, and they plan on doing at least one other reorganization of the space during the year.
In 2013, I wrote a blog post about revamping my library layout with deliberate intent. (It's here - It's fascinating to see the differences from four years ago. I mentioned in the 2017 Twitter chat that I "went a bit Reggio" in removing some of the old Blue Spruce posters that had been hanging since before I was the teacher-librarian. It feels cleaner, bigger, and brighter now. (Those who are familiar with actual Reggio Emilia approach will realize that I'm only scratching the surface of the approach with regards to the environment.)

This "less is more" also applies to my book shelves. I try to choose one section per year to weed and I've started early on my fiction section. I didn't have enough space to properly shelve my chapter books and they were sitting forlornly on my shelving cart waiting for a space that didn't exist or even lying on top of the books in their usual place. It's a great chance for me to get reacquainted with my novel collection, get rid of some books that are out-of-date or in poor condition, and make space on the shelves for even newer books!

How has this "bare-er space" worked out so far? Well, I was going to title today's post "sometimes I'm the solution, sometimes I'm the problem". My Grade 1-8 students have been non-plussed by the changes. My new kindergarten students had mixed reactions to the library. I tried to keep some things out of sight so they wouldn't be overwhelmed with choice and too many tempting toys, but one little one made a beeline for the back and pitched a fit when I had to redirect her because I couldn't properly supervise her in that area or allow her to take down all the hidden toys. I wasn't proud of some of the ways I handled a few of our assertive / defiant / stressed new junior kindergarten students this week, although I was pleased by one incident, where I removed a student from another prep teacher's classroom to calm him down (because he was throwing chairs and endangering himself and others) and he settled down so well that he fell asleep on me in the library and stayed unconscious for forty-five minutes. Thankfully, the Grade 6-7 class I had at the time were extremely accommodating and let me co-teach part of the class on the floor with a sleeping child on my lap and shoulder. (The wheeled chair meant I was able eventually to scoot up and be a bit more visible.) I think it's easier to stay calm and provide valuable assistance when you aren't the one in charge of the class - maybe this is why Kerri Commisso kept such a level head and stepped in to help care for the other students when I was faced with a youngster with a massive nose bleed in a kindergarten class with no ECE. (Thanks Kerri!)

The #tdsbEd chat site can be found at - the schedule of chat themes and dates can be found there.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Diana's Defining Teacher Moments

Aviva Dunsiger always gets me thinking. She posted her "My Five-ish Defining Moments", her personal response to Jonathan So's original blog post, "Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments". Jonathan's definition?
"The moments that redefine your direction and make you really reflect on why you teach and how."
 This is a really hard question, because it comes to the heart of who we perceive ourselves to be as educators and what we value most in teaching and learning. I suspect that I might answer this differently at various times throughout the year or throughout my career. As I reflect on what I might pick as my defining moments, I notice they have to do with choice. Or maybe not. This is what comes to my mind at this point in time, just before I begin the 2017-2018 school year (my twenty-first in teaching as a permanent teacher).

1) Taking my Library AQ Part 1 course > defined my identity as a "teacher-librarian"

In the late 1990s, I was a newly minted Faculty of Education graduate. At first, I had no job, but I was fortunate enough to get on the supply teacher call list for the City of York. Eventually, I was accepted as a potential supply teacher for several other boards (the Metropolitan Separate School Board, East York Board of Education, and Scarborough Board of Education) but I realized that I needed to take some more courses to continue learning and increase my chances at getting a permanent position. My first three AQ courses were in Special Education, English as a Second Language, and Librarianship. My father advised me against taking the Librarianship AQ, because he said there was no future in being a school librarian. I still took the course, for two reasons: I had done some supply work covering for teacher-librarians, which I found enjoyable AND the location of the course was conveniently close to my house! Taking that AQ made me realize that I didn't have to be a classroom teacher - being a specialist teacher was a viable option and a possibly rewarding one. As this story I shared before showed, it was due to my Library AQ course that led me to my permanent position. It also introduced me to some fabulous people (like Carol Koechlin) who still influence me to this day. There is a slight negative side to this - by identifying so strongly as a TL, I may have passed over opportunities because it wasn't "who I was", but I've enjoyed my years so much in the library that I can't complain too strongly.

2) Being obnoxious at a workshop > introduced me to presenting and to Tribes

I'm not proud to admit it, but sometimes I'm a pain in the butt. I've told this story before on this blog, but for a quick summary - at a training session, I was an irritating participant, constantly questioning or complaining about the defects I felt existed in the program we were there to learn how to implement. The workshop leader recommended that I take Tribes, because it would answer some of the questions I had. Not only did it do that, but it opened me to a way of working in schools that felt safer, more enjoyable, "stickier", and productive. The definition that Tribes facilitators memorized to explain it to people who have never encountered it is: "Tribes is a process that creates a culture that maximizes learning and human development". It was the start of developing my comfort in sharing and facilitating learning for fellow educators. Now I run workshops in places all over North America, which connects me to incredible educators, which introduces me to new perspectives and great ideas. My involvement with Tribes has not been without its flaws. Because of things that have occurred during Tribes trainings, I've been stressed, lost friends / damaged friendships, and experienced my most shameful moment as a teacher, that I wish I could go back in time and fix. (I've debated about blogging about my biggest shame, but it's still difficult to discuss, even though many years have passed.)

3) Writing for Library Network Group > embedded blogging and regular reflection in my practice

My very first blog post was March 30, 2009. The portal no longer exists - I merged my old posts onto Blogger in 2010. I first wrote as a favour to the library folks in charge of that online space. Now, I can't imagine not writing every week. Aviva mentioned in her comment section to her blog post that:
The “old me,” [Aviva] likely would have commented on blogging as being about sharing ideas and writing for an audience, where the “new me,” would comment on blogging as a way to reflect.
 I never expected that anyone would read my blog, and I was often surprised when people did. The tone of my blogging posts changed, and the blog posts repurposed themselves into being for me, as a way to process my thinking, as a method of preserving moments and memories. I have serious holes in my memory - I cannot remember a lot of my childhood and teen years and I don't know why - so journaling like this is a way to preserve my thoughts and help me know myself better.

4) Taking a Comics Course as part of my Masters of Education > opening my mind to different forms of literacy

I have to tell the truth - it was my husband that suggested this point as a possibility, and my reaction was "Of course! How could I have forgotten?" The course was called "Comics and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries", run by the wonderful Gail de Vos at the University of Alberta. That course was the reason I wanted to take my M.Ed. in the first place. I learned so much and found a medium that I became passionate about. My school libraries became filled with graphic novels; I wrote graphic novel reviews; I joined clubs and participated in TCAF. I even recently ran a course on Teach Ontario all about graphic novels. I met my comics mentor at the Canadian Children's Book Centre awards gala and got a chance to tell her how pivotal she was to my development.

5) Getting lost in a pixelated hole > discovering Minecraft and Games Based Learning

Another husband-recommended moment in my educational evolution. I could have tied this with comics, as I met Liam O'Donnell at TCAF and he introduced me to Minecraft. I wrote about my beginning experiences with this game on the predecessor to (a wiki) and transferred all of my journals to another blog of mine (see for the very first time I went on Minecraft in 2011). I had toyed with the concept of Games Based Learning long before this, but it was my collaboration with Liam and Denise Colby that truly got me using it less randomly as part of my teaching repertoire. We had a TLLP that explored the benefits of using it and it also led me to present all over the place and meet some fabulous people. I've "divorced" myself from Minecraft, now that it has a new corporate overlord, (and this article on branded educators also helps to explain the purposeful disconnect) and I vowed not to present any more about Minecraft after 2016. I still use it in my teaching and learning, and I suspect that students would stage a full-scale rebellion if I chose not to run Minecraft Club. It's also taught me about giving students choice.

6) Learning to finger knit and sew > opening and expanding my school library makerspace

I got a little concerned as I wrote my list - isn't there anything more recent that has altered my teaching philosophy? Am I old and stale? Calm down, Diana - it's not that dire! (See why I'm hoping self-regulation will be my next defining moment?) I combined sewing and finger knitting because I wasn't sure which one truly re-launched my Makerspace (I got into finger knitting in a serious way in July 2016 thanks to Melanie Mulcaster, and learned how to sew in August 2016 after a conversation with Jennifer Brown). Ray Mercer's advice encouraged me to persevere with my makerspace and I'm really excited about how it's altering the library and the possibilities. In fact, all three of the workshops that I'll be presenting at the American Association of School Libraries conference in Phoenix this coming November have something to do with makerspaces! I spend way too much of my own money on supplies (and I just bought my own sewing machine, which will probably travel back and forth from school and home) but this is another area that is still expanding for me.

7) Something else - might it be self-regulation? Equity education? Something I'm not even aware of yet?

I love how Aviva ended with keeping the possibilities open. I noticed many people who did this mentioned Dr. Stuart Shanker's work on self-regulation. I hope my exploration of self-regulation and executive functioning is as positive for me as it has been for others.

Speaking of positive - I noticed that for many of the defining moments, I've added less-than-positive after-effects. I think it's because a) learning sometimes comes at a cost, b) that progress isn't always linear - otherwise the worst teacher would be a beginning teacher and the best teacher would be one that has taught the longest and we all have examples that prove otherwise, and c) sometimes I didn't realize that the action would take me where it did or change me as it had - it's complex.

I was very tempted to organize my list via people (like Salma Nakhuda, my friend who was my first official mentored relationship, and who has taught me so much) but I feared I would forget some wonderful people. I was also tempted to include my children and how their school experiences impacted the way I "do business", but it wasn't so much defining as it was reaffirming. Plus, I didn't want to look like I was copying anyone!

Sorry the list is so dense (and without images to break things up! tsk tsk!). I hope to see some other people's lists. Happy Labour Day - and happy 40th birthday to my "baby" brother!

Monday, August 28, 2017

New Beginnings

TDSB held its Beginning Teacher Summer Institute on August 22, 2017 and the Library Department offered a New and Experienced Teacher Librarian Open House on August 23, 2017. Zelia Capitao Tavares wrote a great summary of #bt_tdsb, which you can find here.

We are all beginners at some point. For teachers and teacher-librarians, September is the start of a new school year, which often brings new challenges. This is going to be my 21st year teaching and even though I've teaching in the library for over two decades, and at my current school since 2004, I'm going to be tackling something I'm not used to doing in a particular way. I'm back to being a n00b, to use a gaming term.

What do you do when you are learning something new? For me, I like to talk with other people. Thankfully, while at the TL Open House at Tippett, I found out that Keri Declute-Ball has experience doing what I'll be attempting. She promised to email me some tips.

I'm also excited about beginning to implement self-regulation skills more deliberately. When I saw that the MEHRIT Centre will be offering seminars and workshops in Toronto, I asked around and Tina Voltsinis, a primary division teacher at my school (and former special education teacher) responded positively.

I'm grateful to have a person right in my building that I can turn to when thinking about how to help students self-regulate. This, in addition to the work I'm tinkering with for my Kids Guide to Canada project (and accompanying paper for Treasure Mountain Canada) and hopefully enrolling in a Media Studies Additional Qualification course, will mean that the start of the 2017-18 school year will be a busy one!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Calm, Alert and Learning on the Beach

My husband knows me too well.

I asked my daughter to take this photo of me with this book and he exclaimed "That's for your blog, isn't it? You're planning a post!"

I've finally gotten around to reading Stuart Shanker's book, Calm, Alert and Learning, about self-regulation in school. Aviva Dunsiger recommended I read it and I'm glad she did. There were many posts I've written where Aviva has pointed out that it's partly about self-regulation - and this even happened to Aviva herself thanks to another friend of mine, Lisa Noble (see

I appreciated how Dr. Shanker backs up all his positions with references to current and classic research (the reference list goes on for 14 pages), yet the points made aren't complex or hard to understand. In this book, self-regulation can be understood through five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial. The most poignant portion of the book for me is the case study of RJ beginning on page 146 - it resonates strongly and rings true. I also like the connections made to special education, mental health, and self-regulation for teachers.

I found it interesting that I read this book mostly while at the beach and on vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. I saw a link on Facebook (which I've subsequently lost, but Brenda Sherry or Jennifer Apgar might know about, since they refer to something similar to it) about how hearing the sand and the waves on a beach is very relaxing and soothing - perfect for attaining a calm and alert state, right?

It's not so simple. At first, reading the book on the beach was a pleasure and I was taking in the information with ease. Then, a family came and set up near our chairs on the beach. They had a dog (and dogs aren't allowed on the beach during the summer season) so I was distracted by that; then they started to play loud music on speakers they had brought. I couldn't concentrate anymore. I was hyper-aroused and needed to down-regulate (if I have the terminology correct). I gave up reading and took it up later while on the porch of our apartment, by myself, a block away from the boardwalk. The change in the environment worked and I was able to finish my chapters. I liked reading on the beach but it wasn't the only way to be and stay calm and alert.

I spoke to others with me on my holiday who said they actually have a hard time reading on the beach and find it too overwhelming with the various stimuli (the texture of the sand, the sound of the waves, the heat of the sun, the amount of people, etc.) - or, even the opposite, too "boring" and so hypnotic that it made it hard to be energized enough to read and think. This reinforced the message from the book that it takes quite a bit of experimentation to discover what strategies work for different individuals.

This is just another step on my self-regulation learning journey. While away on vacation, I also read The Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control  by Leah Kuypers. I haven't finished it yet but it makes for a great complementary read. These books got me thinking, even when I was "just chilling".
We were on a Disney movie re-watch binge and it was obvious that Lilo was struggling to make friends and play in appropriate ways. Her stressful home situation caused her to "move to the red zone" quickly and at the slightest provocation. During the opening scene when we first see her, Lilo was too up-regulated (because she was late to her dance class and was upset with her sister for not having peanut butter) so when another dancer said Lilo was weird, Lilo pounced on the other child, hitting, kicking and biting her. It took meeting someone even more dys-regulated than her (Stitch, an alien designed only for destruction) for Lilo to try and change. If you haven't seen the movie, Lilo tries to teach Stitch some skills - unfortunately, they weren't from the Kuypers or Shanker books, so they didn't work as well. Sorry for any spoilers, but Lilo shows Stitch how to model his behaviour on Elvis Presley; this was a decent start but Stitch missed the nuances required and just when it looked like he got the hang of "being good", the flashing camera bulbs set him off and he caused a riot on the beach. The lesson? Even if we teach these coping mechanisms, something might make it difficult for those struggling to use the skills. There will be set-backs. We won't be able to practice these skills on a beach, but we must persevere, all year long.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Underdog on top - or when a C trumps an A

This post will be simultaneously published on Monday Molly Musings and on the GamingEdus website. This post will also be unique in that my son will co-write it. (His words will be in bold.)

I like video games, but to be honest, I'm not particularly good at them. I play because it's fun and it's an enjoyable activity for the whole family.

This summer, my son bought the Nintendo Switch game console system.
This is a brief overview (by him) of the new hardware:

Well thank you Mother of mine! Yes the Switch has made it into our household with 3 games that broke me, but let's get back to the system. The Nintendo Switch (or Swish Cheese if you want to be funny) is the newest console, with the idea of it having multiple ways to play. The three main ways are: Tabletop/TV Screen, Handheld, and (as I call it) Mini-Screen. The Switch looks similar to the Wii U a previous console by Nintendo, but the side controllers can come off the sides, with also three ways to use them: One, Two or Joycon Grip. With multiple ways to play, you could take it on the go or settle down and play around.

However one thing I'd like to point out is how gosh dang tiny the little cartridges are! I'm glad I have all these casings for said cartridges or they'd be gone in an hour! Also, sadly the Switch is not backward compatible like the Wii and Wii U. But basking in glorious FPS (frames per second) in Legend of Zelda, or Beautiful Motion Controls in ARMS makes it pretty worth it. Speaking of games...

One of the new games that we purchased for the Switch was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
I've played Mario Kart in various forms for ages - but I'm terrible at it. (I think this is somewhat ironic considering that I'm the only one in the family legally able to drive in real life.) Usually when the family plays, the others take the top three spots and I'm in 12th place. (12th is last place.) I don't mind - I'm not very competitive and it's more about the family connection.

I've been improving and I suspect some of the new features (e.g. auto acceleration, smart steering, and a different controller) have helped. For one brief and glorious moment during a four person race, I was in first place! I was squealing as if I had won the race, even thought it was only for about 30 seconds and others quickly overtook my lead. One of the new features on the "joy-con" is a camera and I was able to capture a screen shot of the short but sweet moment when I was on top. (I don't have the proper technology to transfer the image straight to the blog at this time, so I pulled up the image on the Switch from the saved picture files and took a photo of the screen after it was done to share the evidence.) I'm the bottom right quadrant. My son is the top left; my daughter is the bottom left and my husband is the top right.

Proof of my moment in the sun!
I originally titled this post "when a C trumps an A" because earning a mediocre grade in a subject I struggle with tends to mean more to me than getting a superior mark in a subject in which I regularly do well with ease. Same with video game performance and me. I think that it's no big deal for my son to get first place in Mario Kart because he expects that he'll do well - it's not a cause for celebration. I think what makes a bigger impact to him is when he temporarily falls from his throne, because it's not the norm. (I'll let him comment below on whether that's true or not.)

Well I mean yeah, don't get me wrong. Sitting on top in First place is rewarding, but when a small unusual event causes me to fall to another place. It actually kind of frustrates me, I'm used to being first or at least in the top 3. But when I fall under that, I feel like I've become rusty and I'm failing. But that's because I'm so used to being on top, if anything, failing... Is a good thing sometimes!

A few days later, most of the household decided to go see a movie at the local theater. My son and I decided not to attend so instead we chose some mother-son bonding by playing all 48 courses on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

That was a fun 3 hour gaming session! It was worth it too, so many customization options were unlocked!

I had no expectation of doing well. My son is a video game expert. He has logged countless hours in front of the screen and regularly beats other experienced players. And yet ... on the very first place, not only did I grab first place, I kept it and finished in first!

Peter (Toad) is on the left. Me as Yoshi is on the right
And I wasn't going easy on her! Wow, who would've thought...

The standings after the 2nd race - and I'm on top!
I asked him if he was just being nice to me by letting me win the first match, but he claims that he wasn't. It was a great victory, and believe it or not, it happened a couple more times during our marathon session. Naturally, I went a little camera crazy and took many digital photos - don't let the many pictures fool you. Peter won the majority of the games.

Mushroom Kingdom Circuit - ended in first!
2nd wasn't too bad here.

Dolphin Shoals - just for a brief time in the lead
She has a hard time with the pipe section.

The start of the race for Grumble Volcano
Classic stage, I LAVA it!

On Rainbow Road Game Cube version - it's a hard course!
I don't remember which version this one was for, my bad if it's false info!

In Wario's Gold Mine
Wario's got a lot of structures, is there more to this guy then we know?

Rainbow Road N64 Edition - a scary track!
Sharp turns and Rainbow Thwomps, oh my!

In Ice Ice Outpost
Gotta keep your cool here.

After all 48 races were through, I ended up in 5th place overall, which is fantastic for me. There's no real way to show how much of a triumph this is - even in the game, once you are below 6th place, your character shakes his head in shame and makes sad muttering sounds, even though for me my usual goal is to get higher than 10th place. Quantifying the achievement makes it both easy and unclear. This concept connects to some personal professional learning my friend Jennifer Brown has been doing over the summer - it complicates things but that's the cool thing about learning.

Let me swing it back from schooling back to gaming - and leave the final word to my co-writer:

Gaming is a great learning tool, I mean not in the sense that you can learn how to drive from Mario Kart or be able to kill mutant salmons from Splatoon 2. But these kind of moments have lessons to learn from it. And it mixes learning and enjoyment in small ways, and that makes it all the while. Thank you Mother, for having me on this Monday Molly Musings, and good night.
(It might actually be night when you read this, but whatever.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

I won't post that

My husband occasionally reads me things he finds of interest online. He shared this article with me  and a portion of it inspired me to reflect and write this post.

How much of my life should be public and how much should be private?

This blog is evidence that many aspects of my life are shared here:
- my thoughts
- my lessons and teaching units
- my volunteer jobs
- my opinions on books I've read
- my conferences I attend
- my colleagues and friends
- my interests outside education

People who know me, even from just online, know that
Do I overshare? Is it too much?

Careful examination of my blog and my tweets reveal that there are actually some areas that are absent from my online profile. There are deliberate omissions and particular rationales for those gaps.

1) Specific details about my children

There are parents who overshare online too much. This article refers to an entire blog focused on the practice and shared the "ten worst ways" but for me, it's less about being annoying and more about respecting my son and my daughter's privacy. This article from The Atlantic highlights the bigger issues of negatively impacting children's digital footprint / digital identity. Although I am extremely proud of my children, I try to refrain from posting photos and I ask their permission before I write anything about them. (This here is a rare photo of my son and daughter on a recent trip.) I googled my children's names and for both of them, the first legitimate link to them specifically are for things they have control over and chose to do.

These guidelines also extend to the children I teach. At one of the amazing ETFO Conference for ICT for Women sessions, there was an excellent presentation about respecting our students' privacy for their sake and for the sake of our safety. (ETFO has many articles that provide guidelines.) I block the names of students if/when I post an example of their work, and I avoid using photos of their faces. I found one picture that I didn't obscure the face in, and I'll need to fix that.

2) Complaints about specific people

Someone once told me that you should think carefully about to whom you complain about your spouse because you may forgive and forget, but the listener might not. The same goes for the Internet. There have been times that I've desperately wanted to vent about someone who was irritating me (this post and this one is the closest I've come to it, I think, and these were when I first starting writing my blog). However, feelings can change, but typed words online don't erase as easily. The deceptive anonymity of the Internet means that people can write some horrific and vitriolic things about people without considering how they would react. I don't want to contribute to the hateful content.

Teachers are supposed to follow a particular protocol when they have disagreements with their colleagues. It's onerous, but the procedures exists for a reason - to avoid libel and slander and a toxic work environment. Keep it positive, and if there's a problem, think twice if it's necessary to share it with the world.

3) Partying

I am not a teetotaller, but you won't read about any of my partying exploits here. The Ontario College of Teachers created a Professional Advisory in 2011 about the use of electronic communication and social media. In it (and you can see the document here), the college advocates caution with sharing inappropriate details of a teacher's private life.

There is a distinction between the professional and private life of a teacher. Practitioners are individuals with private lives, however, off-duty conduct matters. Sound judgment and due care should be exercised.
Teaching is a public profession. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that teachers’ off-duty conduct, even when not directly related to students, is relevant to their suitability to teach. Members should maintain a sense of professionalism at all times – in their personal and professional lives

4) Specific Politics

Supposedly, the saying goes that there are three areas to avoid in casual conversation to prevent conflict: politics, religion, and abortion. Teaching itself is a political act. If we are interested in addressing social justice issues, it cannot be done in a vacuum. Here are a couple of recent tweets I shared from my timeline.

Having said that, there are some issues I'll avoid debating online, because my opinions would be more divisive than necessary. I would not want a student to ever feel uncomfortable talking with me about a subject because they fear my opinions, if they differ from theirs, would cause me to treat them negatively or judge them harshly.

So, did I miss anything? Some are obvious (this is a nudity-free blog, for instance). Are there any other areas that I don't post about? Topics that I do but I should stop? Topics I should start writing about?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Cleaning the garage and creating the garden

The second half of July has been consumed by two enormous tasks that took a lot longer than I anticipated: cleaning out our garage and creating a garden in our yard. Both experiences were hard work but quite rewarding.

1) The Garage

I am not a hoarder, but as an educator, I have a tendency to "save things" because I think they may be useful to me or my students or our learning later on. Opening some of these bins has been both a trip down memory lane and an eye-opener. Turns out that some things don't date well at all. Other things are classic.

I graduated from York University's Faculty of Education (Concurrent Program) in 1996. I boxed many things, including my application package, acceptance letter, and program guides. The one thing I did keep, even though I may never use it, is the unit plan(s) I developed when I was student teaching. I don't plan on using them as they are -  a lot has changed since the late 1990s - but I kept them because of the hours and days of blood, sweat, and tears I poured into those individual lesson plans. There are times where I feel I've channelled more effort into those "baby beginning teacher" plans than I do now (and I'm awed by the level and detail in the evaluation methods and records!)

There was method to the Faculty's "madness" in making us work hard on crafting decent lessons and solid assessments. The content may be old/expired but the methodology is sound. In fact, my first year in the Faculty of Education at York had a big anti-bias curriculum focus - equity doesn't go in and out of style and the more I learn about this area, the more I realize I need to learn.

Another artefact, another memory. I nearly forgot that I spent a lot of time during my university days working for the Office for Students with Disabilities. I was a notetaker, attending classes with students who were deaf or who had hearing impairments to document what the professor said during lectures. I also read course materials ... on audio tape! I lurked online to see how this service has changed with the advances in technology. On their website, now called Disability Services, York University has three areas of support: Learning Disability, Mental Health Disability, and Physical, Sensory, and Medical Disability Services. Digging a bit deeper, I see they still offer note-taking services but Kurzweil and Read and Write Gold were mentioned specifically as reading accommodations.

My husband and I reorganized the garage, as well as weeded through all the bins. We created specific areas for the different kinds of materials stored. Books dominate our bins. I wish there was a machine where we could pour our unwanted books into and get 1/10 of the money back. We are still keeping many of our books, but some have been recycled, some will go to my students at school (because they aren't bad - I just don't need or want those anymore) and some will go to Value Village. In the above photo, the yellow words indicate things that still need to be done. I can't get into my school right now to drop things off, and going to the dump is a healthy prick to my conscience and involves a vow to do more to reduce and reuse.

"Cleaning the garage" also works as a mind metaphor, I realized as I wrote this. Often, I'm surprised by the things I've "stored" and there comes a time where I need to declutter and purge, by thoroughly examining what I'm "keeping" in this space, why I'm holding on to it, and whether or not it does me any good. Some things are better to get rid of. If you collect too many old things, there may not be room for the new, so be selective. (This works for physical and mental teaching spaces as well - who knew?)

2) The Garden

My family is amazing. After discussing plans with my talented younger brother, he designed and built two garden boxes by the sides of my back yard deck. This is in addition to the incredible front garden he improved with stone blocks and another he created from scratch where our old tree used to be.

The circle garden in the front yard

The new garden wall

Another angle (and a view of the spot we changed from garden to grass)

Then, my parents agreed to come plant shopping with us to choose some annuals to brighten up the beds before we decide what will permanently reside in those spots. My parents took great pleasure in planting the begonias, petunias, marigolds, hibiscus, and other flowers. (Farah Wadia will be happy to hear that we finally got around to planting that eco-friendly decoration from Grade 8 graduation - it didn't die!)

Grandmother, grandfather and grandson collaborating

What I really loved about this project (and what can be tied back to teaching) is the multigenerational and multi-level involvement. Having specific skills helped a lot, but everyone, including me with no gardening or construction experience, could contribute somehow to the final product. (The part I played involved financing and driving.) This could be an example of Project Based Learning or an Inquiry Plan (e.g. "What can we do to improve the look of the outside of the house using the natural environment without breaking the bank?"). There were many STEM / STEAM elements involved (i.e. measuring how much wood, estimating the cost of materials, designing the size of the planters as well as ways to contain the soil without rotting the wood, selecting what plants would suit that location in the yard with the amount of sunlight it receives daily, colour variety of blooms, etc.) The great thing was how everyone could share in the success, regardless of what role they played or how long they worked.

The only downsize to all this garden and garage work? The triumphs encourage you to do more, try more, clean more ... and I have to be sure that my enthusiasm doesn't extend my reach, financially or time-wise! Thanks everyone for everything!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Taking Care of Twins (aka "I'm too old for this stuff!")

Remember my friends Tracey and Morgan? On July 17, it was their 16th wedding anniversary. What can you give a couple for their anniversary that they'd truly want and appreciate? When the couple in question have two babies, the answer is relatively simple - time to themselves!

I have said many times that I need to have projects to occupy me so that I do not "get in trouble". Volunteering for baby duty was one of those "how hard could it be?", impulsive, "I have the time"  quick decisions that inevitably impact the entire household. (My husband and son spent a lot of time together doing errands that day so they could avoid the baby onslaught as much as possible, although my husband, bless his heart, drove with me back and forth to pick up the boys and drop them off.)

I've written about Tracey, Owen, and Emmett before. Tracey is pretty awesome and I knew that I could not replicate what she does daily on my own. Turns out that it takes three grown adults with the experience of raising a total of seven children to maturity under their belts to handle the task Tracey does on her own. This math fact seems elementary but is profound: two is much bigger than one!

I won't lie to you. Even with my mother, my mother-in-law, and me working together, it wasn't easy. Owen and Emmett are now 11 months old. They like the comfort and routine of their own house and I brought them over to my place on July 18, a location where they've never been before. We had lots of supplies and resources but not some of their bulkier items (like the double stroller or high chairs) that they really like. Owen slept for just 30 minutes in the morning instead of his regular 2 hour nap. Emmett slept longer than usual (90 minutes instead of 30) but that was because he did it on me. I took photos so Tracey would have evidence that they were being treated well and that it wasn't an all-day crying session.

Owen reading some books

Lunch time (no one ate as well as usual, including the grandmas!)

Emmett is sleeping

Still asleep!

Owen is finally comfortable enough to crawl around

In the movie "Lethal Weapon", Danny Glover's tag line is "I'm getting too old for this s**t!" When I last wrote about Tracey and her youngest sons, I added a couple of nuggets of wisdom from Tracey. This time, I will add my observations and tie them to school.

1) Taking care of babies requires people with energy (and/or youthful vigor)

Danny Glover was right! I am getting too old to run after babies! I don't know how Tracey does it day after day. I'm not saying that you have to be in your 20s to have a baby, or that a veteran teacher cannot be placed in a kindergarten class, but the stamina that comes with youth helps a lot. The day after the twins were over, I ached in places I didn't even know I used. It's physically demanding!

2) More hands make lighter work. (Especially ones who want to be there!)

I was grateful to my mother and mother-in-law for coming over and helping out. Emmett was a bit more clingy and distraught than his brother, so it was a relief to know that Owen was being attended to by two happy-to-be-there ladies while I soothed Emmett. (Emmett is usually the one who crawls all over the place but he was most content when I was carrying him. This wouldn't have been possible if I was alone.) When teachers have capable and eager assistants in the classroom (and that can even include the students themselves), it makes things go so much more smoothly.

3) When in doubt, improvise!

The boys like to fall asleep while watching the YouTube channel Little Baby Bum (here's a sample of what it's like). Problem is, I don't know how to wire my TV to the Internet to show YouTube videos! When my children were little, we used to watch Baby Einstein and we still have them - on VHS tapes in the garage. For some reason (probably the stress of trying to do it right away with crying babies present), I couldn't get the TV to work and turn to a toddler-friendly station - I could only figure out the DVD player. I was reduced to putting on Teen Titans Go because I knew that the boys were used to watching it when their older brother got control of the screen. Ideal? No, but when Plan A fails and Plan B tanks, doing whatever works that does no damage is fine. If there ever is a next time, I'll try and figure out in advance how to work the TV properly.

4) Support can come in many different ways.

Point #2 is true, but there are other ways to help, and that even includes online cheerleading. (It doesn't replace someone actually being there to give some respite, but it's something.) I bet when Lisa Noble sent her tweet that said "There is genius in you. There is splendor. Wonder. Gifts beyond gifts" that she didn't expect my reply.
That kind of timely encouragement (and humour from someone equally as far away that I don't see nearly as often as I'd like, Andrew Forgrave) was the perfect "you are not alone" pick-me-up. What this means for teachers is to grow their PLN beyond their school walls so you can be surrounded by positivity.

I'm not sure how to end this blog post. Conclusions are so much harder to write than introductions. I think Tracey and Morgan had a wonderful anniversary but were also still happy to have all their children back in one piece (Morgan's parents took their eldest to the Aquarium for the day so that Morgan and Tracey could have the day to leisurely enjoy a movie and lunch.) Will I do it again? Maybe - as long as I have help. I know several baby-lovin' teachers who would jump at the chance to cuddle and pamper a baby - or two.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Volunteer Life Highlights

Alternate titles for this post:
- Maker Events Post-Mortem
- Ups and Downs of the Volunteer Lifestyle
- Pay Some Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Done and done!
The first week of July didn't feel like a holiday to me because I was busy working - for free.
Let me tell you about three (what? 3? last week I mentioned 2!) major projects and how hard-core volunteering impacts your experience of an event.

1) MakerEdTO (July 5, 2017)

MakerEdTO was bigger and (dare I say) better than last year. The tickets were sold out just a few days after opening registration, and Toronto's mayor John Tory even tweeted about the event. We had a great turnout for the opening Ignite talks and we still had a solid showing at the end for our closing keynote. We had more people exploring and tinkering in the Playground than we did last year, which made me happy. The pacing of the day was wonderful and everyone that I encountered, from the food truck workers to the vendors to the participants were pleased with their experience. Here are just a few of the tweets and photos from the event.

Teresa shows Munazzah some cardboard tips

David, Arianna and Mark support some bridge building

Creatures from the loose parts station (manned by Denise!)

I loved Larissa's creature! So cute!

Tim, Mark and David prepare everyone for the day

Adding our handles to the Twitter wall

Speaks for itself!

Andrew's creature was as active as he was!

If you compare my reflections from last year's event to this year, you'll notice a distinct lack of detailed descriptions on sessions and workshops. That's because I really didn't get the time to sit on any for long! My assigned duties involved supervising the Twitter Wall and ensuring that the food truck lines went smoothly at lunch. I also presented a session on Cosplay MakerSpaces with my daughter, who was kind enough to take the day off from her volunteer stint at the ROM. There are always many "little" things to do at a conference that crop up, from distributing the stamps for the passports, to taking photos, to counting attendees for statistical reflection later on, to ensuring that fellow core team members eat and drink, that need doing so the day runs well.

I thought it was a brilliant idea to have the core team members wear red shirts for easy recognition (wait - don't red shirts typically die in Star Trek?). I especially want to call attention to the efforts of two particular "red shirts": Tim Cooper and David Hann. We held MakerEdTO at Tim's school and he was everywhere, doing everything. Because he knew the building better than anyone, Tim had the answers to many of our questions. He played the role of organizer as well as tech support and trouble shooter. David is the main man behind MakerEdTO, although you would never guess it because he is so modest and humble. David takes this conference seriously and his commitment shows. He is constantly reflecting on how to improve the conference, increase the networking, and make everyone's experience the best it can be. It was.

2) Maker Festival Toronto (July 8-9, 2017)

The dates for the grand Maker Festival Extravaganza at the Toronto Reference Library seem short - just a weekend - but in reality, days and days of planning went into this event. I've had weekly meetings with our subcommittee since May and the days leading up to the actual event are intense. I spent more time with the core team members (some of whom I wrote about here) than I did with my own family during the final days. (Don't worry - absence makes the heart grow fonder!) One of our volunteer orientation sessions had to be rescheduled at the last minute and so we created two options. Fellow Volunteer Coordinator Nathan and I spent time at Andrew's house building huge paper mache balls. Between Friday (set-up) and Saturday (first day), I only got 4.5 hours of sleep. Despite of (or because of) the super-human efforts, Maker Festival Toronto was a big success for the majority of attendees. I think these two tweets may be the only photographic evidence that I was at Maker Festival Toronto 2017!

We had specialized lanyards to indicate that we were on the core team (which we ran out of, but that was a learning experience) with nick names added to them. Mine was "Mother Hen", because I worried about my brood (consisting of over 200 volunteers, plus my own "baby chick" and another relative who saved my bacon by pinch-hitting at the last minute for a critical task). I also fretted about the core team's needs - were they eating and drinking? Did they get to go to the bathroom? Were they stressed? Thankfully, this was not a one-sided street. I remember our amazing core team member Paul asking if we wanted him to watch the desk while we at the Volunteer Desk got a chance to experience the festival. I turned him down - one, because that was right before a big shift change and we had to check people in, and two, because I found that it was hard to let my mind go "off duty" to take in the exhibits. It was important to take a break - I found that just a few minutes outside gave me some much-needed energy, although it was hard to "stop working". When I left my station, I caught myself scanning the crowds to examine the volunteers. Do they need a break? Are they doing their job? Are there enough volunteers here at this spot? Are volunteers needed elsewhere?

There were many areas where we can improve but there were also many areas where we triumphed. Two of the areas I wanted to focus on with my new role in 2017 as Volunteer Coordinator was high school outreach and inclusivity. Nathan and I personally phoned every secondary school in the TDSB and TCDSB to encourage guidance departments to promote Maker Festival Toronto as a fun way of earning volunteer hours, and we had many youthful participants. (I also want to add that we had a lot of teachers volunteer their time as well - thank you educators!) We also made a good start on supporting our volunteers with visible and hidden challenges, but this will take a while to develop. When I saw a super-shy helper find a way to assist that made them feel valued, or when I noticed a volunteer who may have been on the spectrum grinning as they partnered up with someone to complete a task, it made me so happy. It was the thank you notes Nathan and I received afterwards that really made it rewarding. (Thank you Peter! Thank you Nicki! Thanks everyone!)

I had some great volunteers taking photos (looking at you Chloe, Khush, Kat, and Nathaniel!) and that's why I have some wonderful pictures to share of the event.

Friday world-building

Behind the scenes as we get the globe out!

Our other-worldly blimp prior to lift-off

Catapult with lights, created during a workshop

Dozens of things to make and do at the Festival

Puppets like this one hung from above

Our globe made it out of the room!

Sailing boats made by kids in the TPL pool inside the Reference Library!

Making with a social justice stance - display for MMIW

Different view of our silver centerpiece

Whale puppet promoting the current ROM attraction

Famous face at Maker Festival Toronto

Scene from the Glowatorium
There are SO many people I need to acknowledge that it could turn this lengthy blog post into a book. Let me limit myself to three areas:
  • "The Big 3" = all of our core team members were incredible (Tarik, Amy, Andrew, Josh, Ceda, Trevor, etc.) but my hat goes off especially to Jen (our executive director), Aedan (our logistics manager) and Eric (our director of festival programming). Imagine a barrage of demands, requests, and queries blasted at you rapid-fire, non-stop. These three took it in stride.
  • Our Toronto Public Library liaisons = Ab, Ted, and Jonathan - thank you so much for all of your support and understanding. I knew that if I phoned one of them with a question or favour, they'd respond. These librarians rock!
  • My "partner in crime" = Nathan was absolutely incredible. He was yin to my yang. We made a great team, if I do say so myself. He was calm, cool, and organized. He was the one that found us the Volunteer Management System we used to track and sort our helpers. He knew when to object and when to acquiesce. He played interference and protector when I needed it. I am truly grateful and I hope he returns to Maker Festival as a core team member focused on volunteers.

3) The Teaching Librarian (Volume 25 Issue 1)

I don't write much about TingL on this blog (the last time I devoted a post entirely to The Teaching Librarian was way back in 2010 or a part of a post in 2013). It's not because it's unimportant; it's because it's been such a regular staple in my life that I practically don't notice it. I've been the editor since 2006 and recently the magazine celebrated its 25th anniversary. Usually we wouldn't be working on the magazine in July. Our fall issue often gets done by the end of June. This time around, more people needed writing extensions (especially me) and I got caught up in the end-of-the-school-year chaos as well as the Maker Events. Thank you so much to those who were able to do last-minute editing while on holiday (Derrick, Caroline, and Allison in particular) and to my very patient OLA liaison, Lauren. I'm going to quote myself from Volume 24 Issue 2 ("25 Years @ Your Library") about the highlights of volunteering on a project for as long as I have with the magazine:

There are many "best things" about being the editor-in-chief - the leadership opportunities, the chance to network with talented library professionals beyond your own school board, the thrill of seeing a project from start to finish and having the printed results in your hands, and the ability to reach out to fellow school library staff members so they know they aren't alone. Thank you so much Ontario School Library Association and Ontario Library Association for supporting The Teaching Librarian for all these years. [page 11]
 To conclude, I can see why high school students have forty hours of volunteer service to do prior to graduating. Volunteers make the world go round! It's also a habit that is worth cultivating. Volunteering can be very rewarding, especially when you can admire the end result. It alters your appreciation of an object (like a magazine) or an event (such as a conference or festival). It even changes how you experience them. Reading back on past issues of TingL remind me of how long it took to edit or how much nagging it took to obtain an article. Getting glimpses behind the scenes of how groups operate and how catastrophes get averted or dealt with means that your awareness increases. I enjoy those events but on a different, more complex level. Thank you to everyone (especially my patient family and my wonderful husband James) for making it possible.